By Hossein Aryan (source: RFE/RL)
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad speaks to UN representatives on September 22.
A leopard can't change its spots. Nor, apparently, can Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad when it's time for his annual address at the UN General Assembly.
Ahmadinejad is back in Tehran now, after traveling to New York last week to deliver his seventh speech to the UN, which, like all those before it, was full of sentiments about which Iranians can only dream. One can only imagine what they were thinking as they listened to Ahmadinejad deliver a lecture on ethical leadership.
The man who took the podium is a weakened and isolated figure at home. But you wouldn't know it by the way he treated the speaker's platform as a mosque pulpit and delivered a speech that sounded like a Friday Prayer sermon.
Like a mullah who reminds worshipers of their responsibilities toward Allah and prescribes behavior in religious, social, economic, and political affairs, Ahmadinejad preached the need for an underlying "faith in God," "compassion," "justice," "dignity," and "freedom." He called for world leaders to have "integrity in both words and deeds" and a "defiance of oppression."
This from the head of a government that has killed and jailed untold numbers of its citizens for their beliefs.
Ahmadinejad accused the West of hypocrisy and berated the United States for a long list of sins -- from slavery to colonialism, participation in two world wars, use of nuclear weapons, and military involvement in Vietnam and Korea. He again questioned the existence of the Holocaust and the "mysterious" forces behind the 9/11 terror attacks. In messianic language, he ended by offering the world glad tidings for a beautiful future built under the leadership of the hidden Twelfth Imam, accompanied by Jesus Christ.
With his call for liberty, compassion, and justice, many Iranians had to be asking why he doesn't want the same for them. In the spotlight on the UN stage, Ahmadinejad endorsed a society that couldn't be more different from the beatings, torture, repression, executions, and imprisonment he presides over at home.
During his six years in power, life in Iran has been miserable for people hoping for even a modicum of political freedom. The peaceful democracy protests that followed his 2009 "reelection" marked the start of a brutal state response that continues even now.
Hundreds of Iranian activists who participated in peaceful protests have been put under house arrest and jailed for their political views, including two of Ahmadinejad's opponents: Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi. They would certainly like to feel some of the justice about which Ahmadinedjad so enthusiastically spoke at the UN.
Sunnis Muslims in Iran who cannot practice their faith freely would probably also like to taste the freedom he urged world leaders to grant their citizens. Religious and ethnic minorities across Iran would like nothing more than to see some demonstration of the tolerance and absence of discrimination that he preached.
Iranians of all backgrounds would like Ahmadinejad to root out the pervasive corruption in his own regime, not just call for its end everywhere else. And the equal distribution of wealth and the eradication of poverty that he embraced? Millions of Iranians who live in poverty want the same thing.
And when he spoke of "the shared and collective management of the world," Iranians must have wondered when they would also be able to participate. For in Iran, under the concept of velayat-e faqih ("guardianship of the jurisprudent"), the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei -- as the "the Guardian of Muslims" and representative of the Twelfth Imam -- cannot be questioned. Doing so can lead to long imprisonment or even execution.
But the flowery phrases that rang out in the hall of the UN General Assembly might as well have ended with "except in Iran." Because the fact of the matter is that when Ahmadinejad talks about hypocrites, he's talking about himself.
Hossein Aryan is an RFE/RL correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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